Innovation is necessary for all forward-thinking businesses, but that doesn't mean sitting around waiting for a "lightbulb" moment to happen. 

For innovation to succeed, it must be as intentional as every other business endeavor you undertake — which means you need tools to make it easier and keep your efforts on track. 

Here are some to consider:

DIY Innovation

When you think of innovation, your mind probably wanders to “millions of dollars in software investment and a team of 1000 specialists working tirelessly around the clock.” 

Sometimes all it takes is a well laid-out Excel spreadsheet. 

Yes, besides holding lots of data, automating number-crunching, and teaching pilots their way around Boeing 747s, those millions of rows and columns can be used as an innovation management tool.

Spreadsheets provide a simple platform to collect, organize, track and manage innovation ideas and progress. They aren't the flashiest option, but having ideas and processes in one place to analyze and assess your efforts is still better than haphazard efforts with no end-game in mind. 

Read books that cover innovation and problem-solving strategies, or innovation-related sites detailing processes followed by other companies to spark your own efforts. You can apply such information to channeling creativity in your organization and solving your own problems. 

It works — but it's not the easiest approach to innovation management.

Free Innovation Management Software

Using software allows you to devote more of your time to being creative instead of losing time record-keeping. A plethora of free options are available online, but I've selected a few worth checking out:

Innovation CloudOperating since 2007, Antwerp, Belgium-based Innovation Cloud specializes in innovation management and team collaboration. It supports 15 users, a maximum of 100 ideas and up to 1GB in storage that’s created and maintained by DataStation. The mobile-friendly software doesn’t require any special training.

IdeaScaleMake use of the available crowdsourcing opportunity on Berkeley, Calif.-based IdeaScale to not only find ideas, but also develop your next big innovation. Crowdsourcing is a crucial element of innovation — because you never know where your best ideas might come from. The free plan supports 25 users and up to five campaigns.

WrideaReleased online in 2008, Istanbul-based Wridea is a completely free solution that allows you to store, manage and organize your ideas. You’re also able to collaborate with your team for effective product development.

Any of these, or other free innovation management tools like IbO, Canvazify and Bitrix24, will take you far by automating the process of tracking your ideas and organizing the development of those ideas. 

Learning Opportunities

But larger companies, or those who really want to step up their game, can take it to the next level with software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms. 

Innovation SaaS Solutions

One of the main advantages of innovation software-as-a-service is that it helps trim innovation-related costs across the enterprise. 

Innovation SaaS also mitigates risk and improves talent management within the company by streamlining crowdsourcing efforts and providing options for innovation team leaders to track innovation efforts at every stage. Planning and execution of ideas requires very little effort with this software in comparison with other options. 

Some of the best innovation SaaS platforms include:

Spigit: San Francisco-based Spigit offers a free demo and a variety of pricing levels and plans. Features include crowdsourcing, innovation analytics, idea banking and automated idea graduation — where banked ideas are drawn forward "as your business or market conditions change." This is a great way to keep track of great ideas that can't be put into motion now, but might serve your business down the road. 

BrightideaUse San Francisco-based Brightidea's free trial period to get to know its streamlined interface — which puts everything from employee engagement, crowdsourcing endeavors and performance tracking in one place. Run and manage multiple challenges easily, and use in-product innovation resources to guide your efforts. It's like having a professional innovation expert at your beck and call. 

Planbox InnovateCollaborate and develop the best ideas with easy-to-use online contest and event management tools. Contests and events are key to inspiring a culture of innovation throughout your company: something you'll need to get employees invested in offering ideas. Automate recurring activities, and track innovation progress with Laval, Québec-based Planbox Innovate's analytics. Subscriptions start at $6 per user per month for a maximum of 250 users, discounted at higher volumes.

These, and other innovation SaaS solutions like Ideation 2.0, Codigital and Idea Spotlight, are worth investigating if you're serious about making innovation a company-wide priority.

Whatever tool you decide is right, taking a step toward innovation management is the smart way to go. But without intentional, measured efforts toward innovation, great ideas remain just that — great ideas — and potentially successful businesses face extinction. Don't be one of them. 

Title image Joanna Kosinska

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